On February 21-22 of this year, the Boyd School of Law and Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas held a very interesting conference on Psychology and Lawyering.  Attendance and enthusiasm were high and organizers anticipate future conferences well-fueled with the expanding research on these related areas.

Here are some excerpts of the rationale for such a pairing:

“The field of psychology has a tremendous amount to offer practicing attorneys. In this two day conference leading academics and practitioners from both law and psychology will discuss how insights drawn from multiple fields of  psychology, as well as from neuroscience, can improve specific lawyering practices.  Panels will focus on client relations and perceptions of fairness, applications of psychology to lawyer decisionmaking, legal persuasion, the courtroom, legal ethics, and lawyer wellbeing.  A special luncheon session will highlight how law professors can teach relational competencies and emotional intelligence.  Tom Tyler, the Macklin Fleming Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School, will give the keynote address entitled ‘Legitimacy and the Exercise of Legal Authority.’

“The conference is an effort to coalesce academics and practitioners from a variety of fields who together are increasingly recognizing the broad relevance of psychology to lawyering.  Traditionally, those who connected law and psychology focused primarily on juries, trials, and criminals’ states of mind. But today, researchers from various sub-disciplines of both law and psychology are broadening their focus to examine the additional ways in which psychology can be of use to a wide variety of common lawyering practices in both civil and criminal settings.”

A review of the topics discussed at the conference illustrates the dimensions of the research that overlaps these two subjects. Panel topics included Lawyer Decision Making, the Psychology of Client Relations, Client Perceptions of Process and Fairness, the Psychology of Courtrooms: Lawyer Performance and Judging, Witness Testimony, Teaching Relational Competencies, the Psychology of Persuasion, Lawyer Well Being, and the Psychology of Legal Ethics.  Material presented included power points on subjects like “From Lemurs to Lawyers: The Role of Evolution in the Psychology of Lawyering,” “Using Principles From Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Nervousness in Trials, Oral Arguments, and Other Court Appearances,” and “Resilient Lawyering: Lessons for Lawyers from the Science of Positive Psychology to Boost Performance and Work Satisfaction.”  There is even a power point on “The Zombie Lawyer Apocalypse.”

The era of industries that do not account for the human element effecting performance, dynamics and satisfaction is fast fading.  Economics is the most recently visible convert, evidenced by Nobel Prize winning Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and perhaps the legal industry is not that far behind…